Credit: Kevin Tachman
Born: 1973, Rome Nationality: Italian Lives: Civita di Bagnoregio, Rome Education: Accademia di Costume e di Moda, Rome
If there’s a prevailing mood in fashion right now, it’s one that rejects the constraints of gender in favour of unbridled self-expression, and one of the greatest current champions of this in the fashion realm is the still relatively unknown Alessandro Michele. For years, he was the anonymous right hand to Frida Giannini. Today, though, the understated designer is the hugely influential creative director of Gucci. Since assuming the mantle at the beginning of 2015, Michele has injected a new currency and mood into the powerful Italian design house, much to the delight of both customers and its management.
Born and raised in Rome, Michele studied at Rome’s Accademia di Costume e di Moda with plans to chase a career in costume design. His mother worked as assistant to an executive at the Rank Organisation, a British film conglomerate with studios in Rome and Michele’s passion for cinema and nostalgia for the romanticism of the mid-century creative films by Visconti, Pasolini, and Fellini, remains deeply engrained within his designs today. After swapping his costume dreams for a career in fashion, Michele left Rome for Bologna, where he spent the next three years designing knitwear for French label Les Copains. An inspiring four-year turn at Fendi working as the house’s senior accessories designer alongside Silvia Venturini Fendi and his eventual mentor, Frida Giannini, soon followed.Michele (and Giannini) joined Gucci together in 2002, where he was hand-picked to work in London under the tutelage of Tom Ford. This was toward the tail-end of Ford’s famous 10-year stint at the previously moribund house (he left in 2004), which enjoyed $10 billion-worth of takings during his tenure and a new association with high-octane sex appeal and date of his departure in 2004.
After 12 years in Gucci’s accessories department, with the last three spent as associate director alongside Giannini, whose own personal cool-factor saw her profile soar in luxury fashion media. But in December 2014, Giannini and her husband, then Gucci CEO Patrizio di Marco, were suddenly fired in December 2014 after three consecutive quarters of declining profits, stagnating sales and waning creative influence within the industry. At the time, couple’s unceremonious departure created a power vacuum at Gucci that many in the industry speculated would be filled by a marquee designer of repute, as Hedi Slimane had done at Saint Laurent. Few would have bet on Michele to fill that void, but he was handed the reins, and more than fill it, he has.
While newly-installed CEO Marco Bizzarri admitted Michele’s appointment probably appeared unconventional to outsiders, his pedigree as a devoted acolyte of the house positioned him better than any possible big name successor who might have hoped to revitalise the ailing brand.
"When he got the job, Michele had a mere five days to create an Autumn/Winter 2015 menswear collection to replace Giannini’s. One month later, he presented his AW15 women’s offering after a similar frenzy."
Along with 70 design staff, Michele had worked tirelessly to create both of his debut collections concurrently. For the former, Michele offered crepe-de-Chine pussycat blouses and rakish tailoring in shrunken silhouettes; horn-rimmed glasses, berets and neckerchiefs completed the looks of gender-ambiguous models that Michele personally styled (directors almost always hire stylists as extra manpower behind the scenes for their shows). This romanticised androgyny signalled a complete about-face for the company’s direction and Michele’s hastily-prepared offering was met with (mostly) critical acclaim from within the industry.
For his new woman, Michele took a bowerbird approach, pairing engineered fabrics with antique textiles foraged from markets or torn straight from his own vintage upholstery. Idiosyncratic fauna and floral motifs, mixed with a subtle sensibility brought a new mood to Gucci entirely removed from the extreme opulence cultivated by Giannini and Ford. Michele’s Gucci girl was more potpourri than provocateur – an aesthetic that better resonated with customer.
In April that year, Michele was tasked with producing Gucci’s Pre-Fall 2015 advertising campaign using Giannini’s final collection for the brand. The finished product, shot by Glen Luchford and styled by Joe McKenna, steered away from the brazen sexuality and overt glamour of frequent Gucci collaborators, Mert Alas & Marcus Piggot. Instead, it favoured analogue, cinematic images of languorous youth, with the models’ faces often obscured or entirely out of frame. Two months later, Michele presented his own Resort 2016 collection at New York’s Dia Art Foundation, where he literally stopped traffic – his willowy ingénues crossed West 22nd Street to enter the venue – with his peculiar brand of artisanal luxury and bookish femininity, which was promptly embraced by an enraptured audience.
In July 2015, the near century-old Gucci reported positive results for the first half of the year with parent company Kering enjoying a 12 per cent increase in revenue, thanks to the universally warm reception of Michele’s new creative direction at the historic house. It was proof positive of a change in the winds of fashion at large.